This park is named in honor of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821), known to her friends and followers as Mother Seton. Born on Staten Island on August 28, 1774, Seton was the daughter of the prominent physician Richard Bayley. Seton spent her summers at Cragdon, her grandparents’ estate, in Edenwald, Maryland, which has since been named Seton Falls in her honor. In 1794, she married William Magee Seton, a successful Manhattan merchant. Her involvement with social work inspired her to found the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows and Children in 1797.
Two years after her husband’s death in 1803, Seton converted from Episcopalianism to Roman Catholicism and was baptized at St. Peter’s Church on Barclay Street in Manhattan. Ostracized by her Protestant family and friends, Seton took her five children to Baltimore to open a school for girls in 1808. After taking her vows before Maryland’s Bishop Carroll, Seton formed the American Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg in 1809. This was the first Roman Catholic religious order in the United States, it was modeled after the Daughters of Charity, formed by St. Vincent de Paul (1580-1660) in Paris during the 17th century to assist the poor. Although Seton never returned to New York, the Sisters of Charity opened the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum in the City in 1817, just four years before she died.
Seton is commemorated as the first native-born American saint of the Roman Catholic Church. She was beatified in 1963, and her canonization was announced on September 14, 1976. Seton’s journals, letters, and memoirs have since been published. In addition to this park, Riverdale’s former Seton Hospital, which stood in this exact location, Bayley Seton Hospital in Staten Island, Seton Falls Park and the Elizabeth Seton Campus of Iona College in the Bronx, as well as Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey bear her name.
Seton Hospital occupied the present site of this park until 1955, when it was demolished. The property lay vacant until 1958, when the Department of Hospitals relinquished jurisdiction of the land to the Board of Estimate, which conveyed it to Parks a year later, on May 28, 1959. In the late 1960s, Parks drew up plans for a substantial recreational facility on the property. Constructed by the Whitler Contracting Company, Seton Park opened in the mid-1970s after a series of delays caused by insufficient funding.
The park contains several modular jungle gyms, a sprinkler system, an array of basketball and tennis courts, two baseball fields, a comfort station, a flagpole with a yardarm that bears the United States, City of New York and Parks flags, and several sitting areas. In 1996, Council Member June M. Eisland funded a $33,417 reconstruction of the fences, and in 1998, Mayor Giuliani provided $31,870 to refurbish the sidewalks and pavement.